“I know that to paint the sea really well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place so that you can understand its way in that particular spot; and that is why I am working on the same motifs over and over again, four or six times even.” – Claude Monet
Coastal landscape paintings have long existed as a popular motif in the history of art, with its earliest forms harkening back to frescos from Minoan Greece. A tradition that saw numerous evolutions over the centuries, landscape painting underwent perhaps its greatest transformation in 19th century France with the onset of radical a new art movement – Impressionism. Highly popular yet remarkably controversial, Impressionist artists turned away from traditional subjects and methods of representation, instead elevating ordinary subject matter into the realm of fine art. Thus, the landscape scene was elevated to high art status, achieving new artistic heights through the impressionists unique depiction of light and atmosphere.
Leading Impressionist artist Claude Monet was among the first to pioneer new techniques of painting outdoors en plein air. In doing so, he was able to emulate on canvas the most ephemeral, natural elements in the changing times of the day in a way that contrasted the stark, studio method of earlier Romantic and Academic painters.
Impressionist painters sought to capture the optical effects of light, the play of the sun’s rays, and the transient effects of light on objects through vibrant colors and loose brushwork. Artists were now interpreting the fleeting atmospheric changes that were right before them. Clarity of form, and symmetrical, linear forms that dominated academic painting were abandoned in favor of a more naturalistic, open compositions. Now, a viewer would be able to fully experience sensory effect of the scene right before their eyes.
Monet’s Falaise, 1882, is part of a series that represents the seaside resort of Pourville sur Mer. A huge cliff dominates the composition and Monet’s loose strokes effectively capture the shadow and ephemeral effects of reality. The cliff displays a remarkable energy, encompassed by Monet’s fervent, passionate brushwork that parallels the sensory experience of standing before such a monumental landscape. Monet uses an impressionist palette of muted greys, whites, and creams to capture the hazy, vast, natural scene before him. The result is a visceral scene, overwhelmed by the arresting, steep cliff hovering over the detached water below.